Keep Walking

In a town such as St. Andrews, full of Americans, IR students and American IR students, conversations about post-9/11 US foreign policy are inevitable. The conclusions of such conversations often result in the attribution of Americans, and, thereby, their foreign policy decisions, as ignorant, arrogant, and unnecessarily aggressive. In reference to these adjectives, the distinction between “Americans” and “American foreign policy,” becomes very important. It would be an insult to one’s intellect if they were unable to distinguish between the two, but, in the case of an organisation such as, ‘Dont Walk,’ the detachment, disillusionment, and disconnect often associated with American foreign policy becomes manifest.

Image courtesy of mandiberg, © 2008, some rights reserved
Image courtesy of mandiberg, © 2008, some rights reserved

When a proverbial tree falls within the boundaries of the world’s largest economic and military power, each and every nation feels its reverberations. In contrast to previous terrorist attacks on Western soil, such as, the 1985 Air India or 1988 Lockerbie bombings, the events of 9/11 are both discordant and distinctive. The inevitable emotional response of the greater population was not contained domestically, but was instead translated to a strong national desire for retaliation, which eroded the global outpouring of empathy and goodwill for the United States.

The collective grief of a nation was turned to wrath by the use of war rhetoric to reinforce a romanticized vision of American patriotism and exceptionalism, while simultaneously using these emotions to justify military action. In George W. Bush’s first address to the nation following the attacks on New York and Washington, he remarked, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Twelve years later, this represents the true travesty surrounding the collapse of the Twin Towers: the emotionally motivated shift to an Americentric and unilateral view of terrorism has established an internal disconnect between American foreign policy goals and global reality which they so powerfully impact.

As such, when a charity fashion show in St. Andrews refers to itself as a response to the events of 9/11, it parallels the detachment from reality observed in post-9/11 foreign policy decisions. If an organisation is to utilise the events of 9/11 as a fundamental aspect of their philosophy, there must be a cohesive and collective comprehension of the scope of the event, and appropriateness to their response. Dont Walk fails spectacularly and arrogantly at both.

9/11 is an event which transcends the traditional notion of ‘terrorism;’ to focus on 9/11 as if the tragedy were monopolized by the US, is to denigrate the hundreds and thousands of dead American soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and Afghani citizens who have lost their lives as a consequence. The profundity of 9/11 is the length of its duration and long-lasting effect on peoples around the world: to mark such an event with a charity fashion show demonstrates the two differing perspectives on the issue. In the United States, 9/11 is an event of the past, with many, including the current President, concluding that the military and political reactions to the event have subsided and are no longer ‘present.’ Of course, the very use of the phrase, “post-9/11,” indicates a vision of the event as it occurred in the United States. Compare the reconstruction of the WTC site in NYC, to the overwhelming deconstruction of the economies and infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan alone. While the United States may refer to a ‘post-9/11 decade,’ the soldiers situated in the aforementioned nations, as well as their respective civilians, are still very much immersed in the events of 9/11.  It is these people and the victims of the tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that deserve help and attention, but strangely, they will receive neither from Dont Walk.

The ludicrous assertion, claimed by Dont Walk, that it enables young people to “celebrate the beauty of life, creativity, and positivity; irrespective of the violence that so often prevails,” only applies to those who are not currently facing suicide bombings, drone strikes, and the aftershocks of war. This is the core of the distortion in the examination of the effects of 9/11: the very association of Dont Walk as a response to 9/11 completely reduces the devastations faced by hundreds and thousands of people, including the families of victims of 9/11, to a single ‘violent’ event.

Furthermore, the image of an event which prides itself as both exclusive and elitist, strengthens the inherent disconnect between the organisation and its cause. This is an event where individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 gather to substantially increase their alcohol intake while simultaneously galloping around in clothing whose value could easily feed hundreds of children in Afghanistan, or could contribute to the many actual 9/11 charities. Sadly, it will do neither. And for all the talk of raising awareness for their cause (the Non-Violence Project, a worthy cause, but unrelated to 9/11), one questions how serious an invite-only event is about engaging with the community.

Moreover, few invited guests at this event would have been cognisant of the fact that it is supposed to serve as a response to 9/11, and with the exception of a fleeting projection of George W. Bush and the smoke over New York during a slideshow, there was no mention of this founding philosophy.  Where was a moment of silence?  Where was a tribute? Then again, the organization must surely be aware of the ongoing absurdity of linking a fashion show and 9/11 in name only, and are seemingly happy to downplay it when it is inconvenient. They could truly not attempt any more persistently to dishonour and degrade the severity and influence of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

If this organization is to continue to utilise 9/11 as the fundamental basis for their philosophy, perhaps the chosen causes can reflect direct action to victims of families of 9/11, and those who have suffered from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither the first Dont Walk or this last one chose charities connected to the victims of 9/11, doubling down on their disconnect and hypocrisy.


Dont Walk argues that their ‘instruments of choice,’ which are ‘fashion, creativity, and self-expression,’ are their preferred mode of raising awareness. If only a response to a tragedy such as 9/11 could be so simple. Perhaps this is what the many citizens of the world affected by 9/11 are lacking: fashion, creativity, and self-expression. Unfortunately, unless these victims of 9/11 and the post-9/11 era happen to be well connected St Andreans, Dont Walk won’t give them a dime, much less a ticket.

19 Replies to “Keep Walking”

  1. Your whole argument depends on the assumption that DONT WALK is solely about responding to the events of 9-11. The charity began out of it, especially because there are actually multiple students in St Andrews who were personally affected and are still affected today. DW is a charity organization that changes every year and sponsors a different charity EVERY YEAR. It is sad to see her “keeping up the tradition” of bashing a St Andrews organization that this year alone raised £30,000 for the Non-Violence Project. It is also laughable to see DW grouped into American foreign policy when only a very small percentage of students within the charity come from America.

  2. This is an interesting take on DW. It seems a shame that this article so catastrophically undervalues the £20,000+ donation that this ‘exclusive’ and ‘elitist’ event is in aid of. For many students of St Andrews, I think we agree that the ends justify the means; the event itself may open itself up to criticism, but the end game of donating one of the largest sums offered by a student organisation working within the University of St Andrews should command respect even where the event does not.

    As for the actual connection to 9/11, I think the point is laboured: DW does not condescend to any connection to the tragedy except to observe that its roots lie with a response to the attacks. To say that the Non Violence Project does not relate to 9/11 is narrow-minded, and I think the clue is in the very name of the foundation.

    Further, the author neglects the difficult paradox faced by events like DW, which thrive because they provide students with a certain kind of night. Sacrifices will always have to be made and even integrity lost where fundraising in this strange little town is concerned. Yes, DW may facilitate excessive drinking, next-to-nudity and general debauchery. Yes, putting on a bake sale outside the library might be the more perceptibly ‘honourable’ fundraiser to the morally superior: but I’d sure like to see how many bake sales you’d have to put on to raise even close to £20, 000.

  3. Well they certainly did more for 9-11 victims in the past (10s of thousands of pounds to families) than you did by wasting your time with this pathetic diatribe.

  4. A high school article, written in dense, self-indulgent prose, which gives no thought to the value of money that DONT WALK has raised, nor to the breadth of causes that it has aided across numerous continents. Naively, you confuse the inspiration for the first DONT WALK event — a desire to give-back to a community that has given our students so much, at a time of great need and long before subsequent wars — for the lifeblood of the events produced thereafter.

    Frankly, I would be ashamed and embarrassed at using a public forum to label an event that has raised in the high-tens of thousands for a variety of charities ‘ludicrous’, ‘absurd’ and ‘arrogant’.

  5. I liked the article for the reason that it highlights the means of raising fund vs. the cause it raises. I think both matters. Indeed, 9/11 was a serious catastrophe but it was a result of another catastrophe sustaining in the another part of world where the victims are more or less similar to 9/11 victims. DW has to enlarge its vision in long run to combine the means with its goal. Well done Brar!

  6. “And for all the talk of raising awareness for their cause (the Non-Violence Project, a worthy cause, but unrelated to 9/11), one questions how serious an invite-only event is about engaging with the community.” Incredibly on point – well done.

  7. If DW was such a hypocritical event and your beliefs were truly so strong then surely you wouldn’t go see the show (oh but you did!). Real integrity would be to donate the money YOUR ticket cost to an organisation that supports 9/11 aftermath victims. Did you? No. But by attending, you’re supporting the exact behaviour you are condemning. Don’t expect of others what you can’t even do yourself. Because that, dear, is hypocrisy.

    Also, following others before me: I’d like to see you raise GBP 20,000 for charity.

  8. I’m not even going to comment on the fact that you are trying to connect DONT WALK to American foreign policy (or why this article was even published as it fails to create any semblance of a solid argument), however I would like to comment on the following quotation:

    “This is an event where individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 gather to substantially increase their alcohol intake while simultaneously galloping around in clothing whose value could easily feed hundreds of children in Afghanistan, or could contribute to the many actual 9/11 charities.”

    Firstly, As several people have said before me, DONT WALK was founded as a response to 9/11, but has moved to support various charities since its founding. You clearly have misunderstood this, or else this article would not have been written.

    Secondly, I’m assuming that the writer of this article was one of the aforementioned “individuals between the ages of 18 and 24,” in attendance last Saturday night. If she was, I would assume then that she was dressed very modestly, as she probably donated whatever she would have spent on an outfit for that evening to an appropriate 9/11 charity.

    Many past and current members of DONT WALK have been directly affected by not only 9/11, but by violence and oppression worldwide, and have utilized DONT WALK as a platform to spread ideals such as non-violent conflict resolution. This article is nothing but a pathetic publicity stunt without the facts or simple knowledge to support its claims.

  9. Dear Ms Brar,

    I would first like to congratulate you on writing such an unfounded, baseless, and ignorant article. I have high hopes for your intellectual and professional future after graduating from St Andrews.

    My family was directly affected by 9/11 and I am also a committee member of DONT WALK. My father lost his entire life’s work, 76 co-workers and narrowly escaped death on that Tuesday morning. My aunt was one of the few survivors to make it out of the rubble alive and spent weeks recovering in a hospital. So, when I arrived to St Andrews and found out that an organization thousands of miles from my home, was founded on the basis for providing relief support for victims and families that I personally knew and loved – I was moved to learn about such a dedicated and genuine cause for charity.

    I also did not know anyone on the committee before I was interviewed and given a position, so explain to me again how ‘exclusive and elitist’ DONT WALK is? Explain to me how the more than 50 students directly involved in the show, who have literally put blood, sweat and tears into this event want our friends to be with us on the night of the event (many of whom we have sacrificed our own personal time with to work on DONT WALK projects all year) cheering us on? Is that really too much to ask? Is this elitist or exclusive?

    I want you to understand the importance of ‘raising awareness’ and equally, the impact that this actually has on people’s lives. I worked for the Robin Hood Foundation for two years – one of the most prominent and successful charities in the world. I have seen 80 million dollars raised in one evening and I have also organized a ‘small-town’ toy-drive for the young children who lost their parents on the 107th floor of the North Tower. From my experiences, I can tell you that the energy of both events is very much the same. Seeing a smile on a six year old’s face after receiving a simple Hasbro toy is just as gratifying as seeing a hedge-fund director tell a group of 400 low-income students in Harlem that he is building them a state of the art charter school. Sure, you can argue that one donation is more substantial than the other but is this really the point of acts of kindness and charity? We do what we can for others and we do it to the best of our ability.

    Acts of kindness and charity are never forgotten and even if DONT WALK has evolved from its foundational premise, it is plain stupid for you to suggest having a moment of silence at an event that is meant to be uplifting and fun. Creativity, excitement, lasting memories, an enjoyable evening; these are what makes large-scale charity events successful and I hope that if you ever experience working in a charity-based atmosphere, you reflect upon this.

    I am not interested in further deconstructing your argument – it’s pointless. I am, however, so sick and tired of people using DONT WALK as an easy target for their own personal tribulations and experiences with elitism in this small town. Actually get to know the people that you are attacking and offending. I can almost guarantee that you would never have had the audacity to write such an article if you had any idea about the dedicated people involved in DONT WALK.

    I find your article personally offensive and most of all – ignorant. I suggest that you watch ‘The Concert for NYC,’ a benefit held after 9/11 for the families of victims (that was also invite-only by the way) to further understand the relationship between catastrophic events, charity and the mediums used to alleviate trauma in the most creative way possible.

    All the best,

    Anthony Zraly

  10. I really don’t understand where many of the commenters on this post have derived this idea that the author is attacking the idea of charity. I don’t think anyone is saying the the money DW has raised is not an amazing thing. However, as an organization, trying to connect oneself to a tragedy without seemingly doing anything specific to help out victims of the tragedy itself is an incredibly unprofessional and offensive use of misfortune. Anthony, I am very happy that you have found a place within Don’t Walk which has provided you with support and purpose, but to compare the actions Don’t Walk has taken to support of 9/11 victims to those of ‘The Concert for NYC’ is to miss the point entirely. ‘Concert for NYC’ was raising money for victims of 9/11, and hence 9/11 was a major part of its philosophy. In the case of Don’t Walk, which has no actual relation to 9/11 at this point other than mere inspiration, the use of such rhetoric is cheap and insulting. The ‘Non-Violence Project’ is an amazing campaign, but bears no relation to terrorism or the tragedies of that day. Don’t Walk is a similarly amazing campaign, please stop cheapening it by reappropriating my nation’s suffering for cheap sympathy points.

  11. I think that a stronger connection between DW and American foreign policy would be the in-group/ out-group mentality cultivated by both.

    As Bush famously said, you’re either with us or against us. just as the American public was pressured to support a particular response to 9/11, St Andreans are forced into camps for and against DW. any critics of the show are faced with pretty substantial blowback, championed by members of the DW committee.

    It’s interesting to observe that no matter how much discord there might be within the organization, every member of DW rises to the occasion to defend the show when an outsider threatens its integrity.

    on the other hand, it is hard to criticize the means by which DW raises “awareness” and money for charity….when it is in line, in principal and in practice, with most Western charity organizations trying to save the poor and disadvantaged souls of the global periphery. there will always be a tinge of irony when privileged westerners with money to spare gather and celebrate in the name of “charity,” so I think to criticize DW alone without bringing into question the whole culture of charitable giving is misguided.

    Given the social constraints and societally determined mediums for charitable giving mentioned, there is nothing wrong with a group of students starting a fashion show in response to 9/11, a charity event such as a fashion show is one of the few socially acceptable and societally constructed avenues for creative protest, which is important for spreading a message of non-violent reactions to catastrophic events such as 9/11.

    however, I think DW would benefit from taking on critique instead of lashing out against it. Although it is understandable why the event is invite only, given the size of the event and desire of committee members to have all of their friends cheering them on, it might be food for thought to consider the message that an invite-only event sends out. this is not the first time the event has been labelled elitist and exclusive yet nothing has been done to alter this image, so either DW needs to accept it and go with it, or actively change the ethos and standard operating procedure of the event.

  12. I think the article raises an important point about the capacity of an event such as DW to raise awareness of social issues. A fashion show is a purely Western construct (tickets to Baghdad Fashion Week anyone?), typically appealing to our most hedonistic desires. Blending these, let’s all face it, pretty base impulses with profound ideas is very difficult and, unless done well, can bring about the exact sort of reaction the author is expressing.

    I don’t want to get into arguing to what extent DW is still motivated by 9/11, because the point applies to any charitable cause. I also would never belittle the donations that DW contributes every year, which I’m sure have helped many people.

    However, my interest is this: after the poignant opening slideshow, with the lights flashing and the deep house blasting, how many seconds did it take people to lose track of the honorable cause? Set against a scenery of asses, tits, abs and magnum bottles of champagne, the message of non-violence evaporated from my mind faster than I could down my first vodka redbull, and I dare venture a guess that I wasn’t the only one.

    I am aware of the point made before that DW needs to cater to students, and only by doing so can it hope to generate thousands in donations. If this is the case, it is unspeakably sad that the only way we can inspire charity on a larger scale is by offering wannabe-cool-kids the chance to pay quadruple the market value for a whisky tasting.

    As mentioned before, the sort of thing that DW is aiming for is very difficult to pull off. However, if you want to use big ideas to motivate your mission, you damn well better make sure they take center stage, and are not just a hip addition to the goodie bag, tucked somewhere between the toothpaste and the condom. In the video on their website, Charlotte (the event director) says DW was founded “in the wake of 9/11 bombings”. Now, this might be a slip of the tongue, or maybe Charlotte is a subscriber to the Truth movement, but in any case it is telling. There will always be cynical people who denigrate initiatives such as DW, but in this case they’re getting their ammo for free.

    Perhaps in the future the committee should make more of an effort not to expose itself to accusations of superficiality. Either go all out and make it all about the charity, or follow FS in drawing a line between the charity and the show itself. Anything in between just seems contrived and shallow.

  13. The point of the article is not the donation, it’s the philosophy behind the cause. Read DW’s philosophy page, then actually read the article.

  14. It only says on Dont Walk’s website that DW was founded as a reaction to 9/11. This does not equate to utilizing “the events of 9/11 as a fundamental aspect” of DW’s philosophy. furthermore nowhere does it say that this is still the reason why DW exists; Neither does DW claim to give money to 9/11 charities. Your argument is founded on the fact that DW continues to assert that it is directly responding to 9/11 and claiming to support 9/11 charities, which it doesn’t claim to do. DW only claims to enable “young people to celebrate the beauty of life, creativity and
    positivity; irrespective of the violence that so often prevails,” which for all intents and purposes it does. Therefore DW is philosophically coherent. Perhaps, as ‘G’ suggested, you should indeed reread the DW philosophy yourself and this will be apparent.
    I’ve never been to DW and I don’t have any connection to it, but your article is obviously flawed so I thought I would respond.

Leave a Reply